Hilton Brown is the Deputy Chairman (Political) and is a former Chairman of Rayleigh and Wickford Association.
I am a life-long Conservative and I have never voted against a Conservative candidate, criticised any Conservative politician or the Conservative Party in public (although I have certainly done so in private conversations with fellow activists). I have been involved in every General Election campaign since 1992, and have been the voluntary Agent five times for Mark Francois in Rayleigh and Wickford and Rayleigh, as it was known prior to the boundary changes.
So I am as loyal as they come. But I am afraid I am going to break a habit of a lifetime and call for Theresa May to resign. This gives me no pleasure as I had admired her, despite the 2002 Conference speech, and followed her progress with interest ever since she addressed one of our lunches in 2000 when she was Shadow Education Secretary. Later, as Party Chairman, she came to help us in our campaign to take control of Rochford District Council, which we succeeded in doing, in 2002.
While realising that she was a Remainer, albeit a fairly quiet one, I was content when she became Prime Minister in 2016 as I was confident she would succeed in leading us out of the European Union in a manner which satisfied the 17.4 million people who voted for Brexit. The early signs were good. I approved of her red lines and was happy with her contention that “no deal is better than a bad one”. Her decision to call a General Election in 2017 appeared to be wise as the polls were giving us a lead of around 20 per cent. Before anyone says “you can’t believe in polls” I would point out that the local elections in May 2017 confirmed without any shadow of a doubt that we did indeed hold a very substantial lead over our opponents.
Why did it all go so wrong?
The 2017 campaign was by far the poorest and most centrally controlled one of the five in which I have been an agent. As an example, letters went out to postal voters without candidates having been able to comment upon or even see them. She wanted to listen to only her two close advisers. Everyone else, including senior Cabinet Ministers, were completely shut out of discussions. I am sure other senior Cabinet Members would have pointed out some of the unwise policies in the Manifesto. It seems that she completely lost her confidence after that election and has never properly recovered.
Instead of having a good majority and being able to control the Brexit process, we have a hung Parliament and have to rely on the ten DUP MPs. Without their support in all matters apart from Brexit, it would have been very difficult to govern.
Thereafter, she appeared to be completely at the mercy of a small group of her Remain supporting close advisers, certain Cabinet Ministers, and civil servants. One red line after another has been washed away and promise after promise has been broken. We have capitulated to Michel Barnier and his masters at every turn. I think the most disgraceful aspect of all was to have the Cabinet Office working away on a Brexit plan, undermining the Brexit Secretary, who was devising proposals which would have been a true Brexit. This led to the Chequers fiasco. It seems that she saw Brexit as a mistake to be mitigated rather than an opportunity to free ourselves from the constraints of the European Union.
The Withdrawal Agreement may, strictly speaking, mean we are leaving the European Union but it is a pale imitation of what was promised at the time of the Referendum and was included in the manifesto of both Conservatives and Labour, not to mention UKIP and the DUP. Many believe we would be better remaining in the European Union rather than be left half in and half out with the danger the backstop will pose to the integrity of the United Kingdom. To me, a Scot who has lived two-thirds of my life in England, and I am sure to most Conservatives, the Union of the United Kingdom is more important than the European Union.
We now have the ridiculous situation of the most left wing leader Labour have ever had being invited to talks on the way forward. Jeremy Corbyn has no interest in helping to find a solution; why should he? His only objective is destroying the Government in the hope that he can reach Downing Street, propped up by the SNP.
It is a disgrace that we will have to fight elections to the European Parliament and I must say I have still to meet or hear about a Conservative activist who will be willing to raise a finger to help in that campaign. I would be embarrassed to do so.
Morale in the Party is at the lowest I have seen and I suspect that if a General Election were to be held this week, the outcome would be as bad as in 1997.
I regret to say that May has lost the respect of the voluntary party, in addition to what I am sure is now a majority of MPs. The only way to recover from this is for a new Leader to be elected without delay and it must be one who is a true believer in Brexit.